Lady Soldiers reclaiming their place in history

Public programs and events

Tags

women's history,
military history,
May Douglas,
WRAAC,
RAANC,
museum,
book launch

Chance meetings can sometimes take you down some interesting roads.  Early one morning this week, I was at the Torrens Parade Ground waving off 40 very excited former women soldiers with their family and friends as they headed down the Anzac Highway in a convoy of six historic vehicles from the National Military Vehicle Museum.  Both women and vehicles were of similar vintage but all seemed in fine form and good working order!  They were on their way to the book launch of West Australian Lyn Dale’s Lady Soldiers at the Army Museum at Keswick Barracks.  Back in May at a History Festival event, I had met Helen Meyer who was organising the launch and from this accidental encounter the convoy idea had grown.

The convoy was just the beginning of a special day of camaraderie and women’s history.  First up we stopped a while in a courtyard of some buildings within the barracks.  A moving service by Repat General Hospital chaplain Nora Kunzel was conducted beside a plaque commemorating where Lt Col May Douglas OBE had planted a tree in 1971 at the building’s official opening.  Up till now both the plaque and May Douglas had been largely forgotten and was not part of the Army Museum’s Heritage tour where other plaques - commemorating men - featured.  But it’s good to see that the Army Museum have now researched and collected a dossier of information about her.

Mary - known as May - Douglas (1904-1999) was born in Victor Harbor and during the Second World War was one of the first officers selected to join the newly formed Australian Women‘s Army Service (AWAS) and served as Commandant in South Australia for some months before going to Melbourne as chief instructor of the Army Women’s Officers' school.  She was later Controller of the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AAMWS).  She also played an important part in the Girl Guide movement in South Australia from the 1920s, becoming State Commissioner of the SA Girl Guides in 1952. During the 1960s she was made an Honorary Colonel of the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC).  Australia’s first woman War Artist, South Australian Norah Heysen, painted her portrait which is now at the Australian War Memorial.    

The alluring smell of home baking met us as we entered the hall ready for the book launch. On further investigation I discovered Trudy and her team doing a sterling job producing batches of scones for the hungry hoards from the mobile military field kitchen outside.

Lyn Dale’s book Lady Soldiers which tells the experiences of 51 women who served in the Australian Army (WRAAC and/or RAANC) from the 1950s to the 1990s was launched by Lyn’s former colleague at Murdoch University, Dr Amanda Third, now Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis at the University of Western Sydney.  We learnt that the book had developed from Lyn’s previous project, a documentary film about 16 of the women.  Lyn responded with a moving speech followed by book signing and time for chat.  Many women had travelled long distances for the reunion.  Four West Australians had even driven across the Nullarbor Plain to be there and by the morning’s end had raised over $400 for the National Military Vehicle Museum’s building fund as a thank you to the drivers of the convoy.

As I left the building there was just one more experience to make my day.  Here I was fortunate to meet Ruby, who is making South Australian history as well as doing a very worthwhile job.  One of only four in the state, she is part of the Dogs4Diggers team, accredited assistance dogs that are provided to Australian Defence Forces with Post Traumatic Distress Disorder, by RSL SA and the Royal Society for the Blind.  Better still, I am told it was originally a South Australian initiative.

Photos of the event can be seen here

The Channel Nine Adelaide news story can be viewed here

You can contact Lyn to purchase copies of the Lady Soldiers book or DVD

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Comments

I was one of the Lady Soldiers, and had a wonderful time in Adelaide. Thank you for sharing our experience. The whole experience in Adelaide was very memorable.  I had the added experience of going on a but trip with the War Widows ladies to Goolwa on the friday, and enjoyed the informative trip with the ladies and the driver Allan. I found out a lot more about South Australia on the trip.
Hello Betty, thank you so much for your comments. You all looked as if you having a whale of a time and it was lovely to be part and play a part in your reunion.  It was wonderful for the women to be recognised for their contribution.
I am the webmaster for the National Military Vehicle Museum, and we are happy that we could help out with this event.I think that everyone - our drivers included, had a great time.
Hi Terry I think the convoy really added to the occasion - it was great to see you all at Torrens Parade Ground all lined up before setting off and to witness the excitement and conversations that the vehicles encouraged.  You can see a short video of the last of the convoy waving goodbye as they leave TPG,on our SA Community History Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/SA-Community-History/158117740914470
I am one of the four West Aussies who travelled across the Nullabor to be at the launch of Lady Soldiers.  We have known each other for over forty years and along with a couple of other friends from 'way back then', we continue with our very special friendship.  We enjoyed the two days immensely with the vehicle convoy to Keswick Barracks being a highlight.  It sure brought back some memories! During the two days we met many new people, put faces to names and made new friends.  The camaraderie that exists today is the same as it was from the day we all started in the WRAAC, whether it was as a member of the CMF or the Regular Army.Our stay in Adelaide also allowed us to see more of SA and meet other comrades along the way...there are many more stories we can now tell and many more that will 'stay in camp'.
I was also one of the West Aussies who drove accross our beautiful country to attend an awesome Book Launch - extremely moving to hear the stories and so exciting to again meet up with the ladies from the 60th Anniversay and to make new friends.  Driving through Adelaide in the 1948 Ford Jeep was so exciting - the vehicle was older than me too.  We also were asked to pass our hats around for the Military Museum and it was a pleasure to had over quite a few dollars to the guys. The trip with three of my WRAAC friends (we have known each other for over 40 years) was great - Thelma and Louise had nothing on us.  Wearing out WRAAC Shirts and Hats with our medals made me once again feel so proud.  Looking forward to reading 'Lady Soldiers' and have already been asked to lend it once I have finished (one of the people who want to read it is an ex RAAF Vietnam Vet who is 71 years old).We toured Adelaide and even ended up at the Murray Bridge RSL and met quite a few members of The Patriots Bike Club which was awesome.  Even met a guy who was in the same company as my brother.and the stories go on and on and some will be shared and some will stay on the trip.......Will be attending the Western Australian Book Launch so hope to catch up again with some of the 'die hards'.Congratulations once again to everyone who was involved with the Book and recommend all to attend the Book Launch as well
My husband and I travelled from Bundaberg Qld to attend the Lady Soldiers Book Launch.    The Military Museum vehicles were a great addition to a great event and we all enjoyed catching up with one another after so many years.   We are all proud to have served in a great Corps and this book has committed so many experiences of that time to history.   We loved Adelaide and wished we had longer time there to see more of that lovely city.  Thanks again to the Military Museum and the organisers of the Book Launch.   Well worth the trip.
Another ex WRAAC Julie Bourne (Ross)  and I also attend the book launch.  What a memborable  time we had...should have stayed longer that our two days for the event.  So nice to finally meet Lyn and all her wonderful helpers who organized this event.  I agree with all that was said by Kay Derome...A credit to all concerned.  As for the ride into the barracks...wow, just awesome.  What wonderful memories we all have to pass on......Cant wait to meet up again at the 65th...
Hi Judy, So glad you had such a great time both at the reunion and in South Australia generally.  It was a pleasure to feel part of this very special occasion
Hi Linda, Thanks so much for adding your comments and hearing about your trip. So pleased you enjoyed the convoy ride through Adelaide - it did look fun at the start and hope it was a great 'added extra' to the occasion. Hope the WA book launch is just as fun!
Hi Kay, Glad you loved Adelaide - you'll just have to come back some time. There's lots to see! 
Hi Andrea It's fantastic to see everyone sharing their memories on this blog post - glad that we can give you a place to 'virtually' meet and talk about old times, and most importantly make women's history visible!
 It's appropriate that their first barracks in Australia was recently state heritage listed at Fort Largs

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